Well to start with, it is nearly impossible to recognise that here is where you are (if you follow my drift) when a local accent pronounces the town’s name. But here goes, in the spirit of the intrepid traveller and explorer – and determined not just to be remembered on a blue plaque for tasting beer and eating food with the excuse of integrating with the local populous. Geraardsbergen in my best local accent. What it is NOT is Ger or even Jer, it starts with more of a clearing the throat kind of Hheeeer. The aard bit is less problematic, not quite the elongated aaaaaaaaa that you may expect, but more of an ard, as in yard or hard or even lard. With the ‘bergen’ suffix we are back to the smokers throat pronunciation, common in these parts, as berghhhh’n trips lightly off the tongue, or to be more accurate, rumbles and rasps to the lips from deep inside the recesses at the back of your mouth.
And there you have it – easy when you know how – welcome to Hheeeerardsberghhhhh’n, the home of the mattentaart.
Walking up from the river through a housing estate to the local shops you are starkly reminded that this isn’t the carefully managed, hyper-clean, tourist orientated, traffic reduced, manicured facade of Bruges or Gent. The assault on the senses of cigarette butts on the pavements, where before on our travels unseen worker bees pushing bins and dressed in orange kept the streets as clean as a dining table, reminded us that without the finances of the Euro tourism pot then councils here have just the same resource problem as councils everywhere.
The terraces of Geraardsbergen
The walk to the bakers, for the best croissant we have tasted – glazed in sugary sweetness – takes me through streets of terraced houses, not the bright colours of immaculate planning and control of Bruges, but a more drab tightly pack row upon row of 12 or 15ft wide abodes with the sound of dogs barking within and occupants of indeterminate age sat on their front steps lighting up a gasper, blowing smoke into the air and mumbling “morgen” as I passed. Here is the Belgium off the tourist trail.
Anyway, today we are off to bakers, cafes, monuments, views, town squares, churches and obelisks – just the other side of the terraces. We are off to find the mattentart and sample one or two in your name dear reader. Off to chase the blue plaque – not of incisive social comment, but the blue plaque of glutony and hedonism – hey! someone has to do it.